Before I start getting personal (too personal that is), I’ve been thinking lately about how age and fatherhood and finally being out of school forever have changed my attitude toward my things. What’s relevant to this blog is that my most valuable (in more ways than one) “thing” is my library. I’ve gone from being nutty about the condition of my books to just wanting the pages together. Sometimes. And I wonder how other people relate to their books.
In The New York Times, Geogg Dyer writes:
There has always been a lot of discussion about the effect that reading books has on us. Far less attention has been paid to the effect that we (the readers) have on them (the books). I don’t mean on the reputations or royalties of the authors who wrote the books but on the actual physical objects themselves.
He goes on to say a little about the condition in which he likes to buy books:
…the book should be in near-mint condition when I start reading it, but I am not obsessive about keeping it that way. On the contrary, I like the way it gradually and subtly shows signs of wear and tear, of having been lived in (by me), like a pair of favorite jeans.
Personally, I’m finding myself less concerned with cosmetics and more concerned with keeping a book intact these days. Also, I’m willing to take home a score from a used bookstore that is in less-great condition than I’d prefer, when the deal is good enough. For instance, I bought a $4 copy of Jack London’s stories on a very cold day at Normal’s last week, even though the book looks like it has seen some time in a backpack or some kind. I don’t plan on being kind to this book, myself. I just noticed a surprising lack of Mr. London the shelves and felt like reading him a little this winter (if it ever gets cold in Baltimore this winter and stays that way).
Some of this new attitude toward books (and possessions in general) comes from having a toddler who seems as interested in books as her parents are. That Sesame Street alphabet book has taped pages by still functions. Charlotte took Mommy’s recent book and disapproved of page 97 enough to tear it out — albeit cheerfully. Our Library of America books and semi-rare first editions are where she can’t get to them, but she plays around with Hemingway (“Hebeeshay!”) and Chabon all the time.
Being a toddler, she doesn’t mind that her copy of the beloved Where the Sidewalk Ends doesn’t quite close anymore (despite being only a year old) or that her getting-worn-in copy of The Trouble with Henry isn’t simple to replace, it being out of print.
I’m finally getting around to seeing books as things to read, not things to own/display/collect. It wasn’t always this way, however.
I have been known to keep books pristine through an entire semester, at least on the outside. In college, my professor jokingly accused me of not having cracked my Medieval Philosophy text book, until my hallmate to whom I had lent it testified that it was completely written in, not always in pencil.
I still take very good care of my books. I imagine a time when I’m a grandfather and my grandchildren read my paper books because no one else has any for them to curl up with. But I don’t get upset when Charlotte sits on a cover and bends it, when I drop a trade paperback and dent the binding, when some child-born liquid soils a cover.
That’s healthy, right?
(Oh, you should read the rest of that article.)